Public Transport in South Wales West

1. Questions to the Minister for Climate Change – in the Senedd at on 21 February 2024.

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Photo of Sioned Williams Sioned Williams Plaid Cymru

(Translated)

2. How is the Government supporting public transport in South Wales West? OQ60682

Photo of Lee Waters Lee Waters Labour 1:30, 21 February 2024

(Translated)

Thank you for the question.

Photo of Lee Waters Lee Waters Labour

Delivering our vision of safe, accessible and affordable public transport across Wales continues to be our priority. The Welsh Government continues to provide high levels of public subsidy to support public transport. 

Photo of Sioned Williams Sioned Williams Plaid Cymru

Diolch, Weinidog. In a report discussed this morning by the corporate joint committee for south-west Wales regarding their regional transport plan, they said that the current transport network does not adequately serve the people of the region, and this is contributing to poor outcomes including limiting access to employment, ill health, negative environmental impacts and social exclusion, and later on it says that rail and bus services provide key linkages between main areas of population, but both have seen limited investment in the recent past. And at a time, of course, when the region’s economy will be greatly impacted by the threat to jobs at Tata Steel, an inadequate transport system will serve to amplify the economic challenges and deepen social inequalities.

There’s been some good news recently with the coalition administration at Neath Port Talbot Council successfully reinstating a number of bus routes that had been cut earlier in the year—ones that I’d referred to previously in the Chamber—and that ongoing work on the Swansea bay and west Wales metro has resulted in a number of feasible recommendations. However, while the evidence of progress on the south Wales metro is unmissable when travelling through the neighbouring Valleys communities, there’s been no similar physical progression for many of the communities that I represent. So, can the Deputy Minister provide an update on the progress of the Swansea bay metro and timescales for when residents can expect to see improvements? Diolch.

Photo of Lee Waters Lee Waters Labour 1:31, 21 February 2024

Thank you, and I agree, also representing an area in south-west Wales, on the importance of the south Wales metro. We’ve always said that we’re going to have to do the metros in sequence, and we’re starting with the south-east Wales metro and the work is ongoing on the north and, to a slower extent, on the south. And this happens in parallel, of course, with the regional transport plans that are being asked to be developed by the corporate joint committees. We’ve now moved the metro development teams that we had, including the one in the south-west, to become regional transport teams to work with the local authorities. So, Transport for Wales provides that expertise and that capacity to local authorities that often struggle with that in order to develop proper multimodal regional development and regional transport plans that align with the modal shift targets in 'Llwybr Newydd' and the national transport delivery plan.

So, that work is ongoing. There are a number of schemes that they’ve identified in the south-west. I’m pleased that the work is also progressing on a new Neath transport hub, which will create an integrated transport centre adjacent to Neath railway station, which means relocating the existing bus station because we know that integration between the two modes, and making it easy to do that, is a really important part of persuading people to use public transport. So, I’m looking forward to seeing the corporate join committee follow through on that analysis and come up with a pipeline of schemes that we’ll then look at funding as part of the next funding round.

Photo of Altaf Hussain Altaf Hussain Conservative 1:33, 21 February 2024

Minister, many communities across my region have become isolated as they have lost public transport links, none more than my home village of Pen-y-fai, which has no bus service to Bridgend or Porthcawl. Despite the efforts of the community council, our village remains without public transport links or any active travel routes. Private vehicles remain the only option for residents, and not everyone has that option, particularly our elderly population. Minister, what will your Government do to ensure that people living outside towns and cities have equal access to public transport?

Photo of Lee Waters Lee Waters Labour 1:34, 21 February 2024

Well, I think Altaf Hussain perfectly sums up the consequences of the deregulation of the bus industry that we saw in the 1980s, where routes aren’t run based on social need but they are run based on where private companies can turn a profit, and that privatised model, I think, has shown itself to have failed, because what it promised to achieve, which is extra passenger choice, has not materialised, and Altaf Hussian sums up a very good example of where people are left without any choice at all. And I want people to have genuine choice. At the moment, in the village that he lives in, it sounds like unless you have a car, you really have no choice, and that clearly is not right. We don’t want to force people to make choices; we want to give people real choices and real alternatives.

I’ll be publishing in the coming weeks a paper on sustainable transport in rural areas, because we can look at plenty of international examples of areas much more sparsely populated than Wales where they have good public transport links. And that's a choice that governments can make; it's not inevitable that rural areas are entirely car dependent. There are a range of things that can be done, and that's what I hope the regional transport plans will allow us to do. Of course, that will depend upon future funding, and we do need to spend more money on public transport, which is one of the reasons why we instituted the roads review, which was so vociferously opposed by his benches. But we recognise that, if we want people to have more choice, we have to invest in those choices, and not just invest in the never-ending pipeline of road schemes, because that's where the car dependence that he describes will simply continue.

Photo of Huw Irranca-Davies Huw Irranca-Davies Labour 1:35, 21 February 2024

Minister, I organised a three-hour public meeting recently, with TfW and Network Rail, attended by over 60 people from across Ogmore and the area, who raised their concerns politely but robustly—because that's the way we are—about the service along the Maesteg-Cardiff line and our hopes for improvement. We've subsequently had the welcome phased introduction this week of new rolling stock, which is brilliant, but we continue to have punctuality problems and cancellations, so we are looking forward to TfW and Network Rail coming back for another meeting shortly. However, the long-running demand for a half-hourly service, which I've championed since before I came to the Senedd, was also raised. Minister, you and your predecessors have met with me and council leader Huw David before on this. To their credit, and as a result of those meetings, proposals have been worked up, I know, by TfW and Network Rail, for a half-hourly service. But the stumbling block is always funding, linked to the digitalisation of the signalling at Tondu, so we can get rid of the Victorian signal box and the physical handing-over of a key, and other Tondu improvements. And that funding needs to come from Network Rail UK. So, Minister, how can you help us in taking forward those discussions at a UK level, as well as Welsh Government and local authority, so we can have the decades overdue investment in this, which will then enable us to take forward a half-hourly service?

Photo of Lee Waters Lee Waters Labour 1:37, 21 February 2024

Thank you for the question. He is right—he has been a persistent advocate of the importance of the scheme, and I've been able to meet him a couple of times to discuss it. I think the fundamental problem here, and we've seen this in other parts of Wales, is that we are part of an investment area called the 'western region' within Network Rail. So, we, alongside London and Penzance, are all up together for the same pot of cash, and the economic analysis that the Department for Transport use to justify rail schemes—a sort of cost-benefit analysis—is always going to favour those schemes in the most densely populated areas. So, when a scheme to Maesteg is up against a scheme in the Thames valley, given the density of the population and the economy of those different areas, it is always going to come down the list, and that's what's happened time and time again.

Now, I notice that the UK Minister for Transport for England is publishing his new rail Bill, to set up the creation of a new Great British Railways, which is a guiding mind of its own at the UK level, which we agree is sensible. But, instead of the existing functions of the Secretary of State being handed over to that body, we want there to be reform. Ultimately, we want full devolution of rail powers and funding, as the McAllister-Williams commission recommended. But, as an interim measure, we want Wales to have what Scotland has, which is its own region within Network Rail, so that we can set the priorities for where investment goes. The Ebbw Vale line is an excellent example of a line that did not meet the DfT test in 2008 when it was built. We built it from devolved funding. Demand far outstripped expectations, and we've now been able to enhance that service further. Now, that wouldn't happen under the traditional Network Rail system, and I fear Maesteg has suffered a similar fate. So, we do need a separate Wales division within Network Rail, with funding and autonomy for Wales to make our own choices on where investment goes. And also then, of course, we need the extra funding for rail, which is a non-devolved area, because Wales has been under-served for decades.

In terms of the specific point he makes, I'd be very happy to convene a meeting with Network Rail and him and the leader of Bridgend council, Councillor Huw David, to make the case again for Network Rail to understand the circumstances of Maesteg and how important a half-hourly service would be.

Photo of Elin Jones Elin Jones Plaid Cymru 1:39, 21 February 2024

(Translated)

I have agreed to a request from the Deputy Minister for questions 3 and 5 to be grouped. Question 3, therefore—Llyr Gruffydd.